Boyd caps successful education career


Dan Boyd listens to the marching band during a retirement celebration in his honor at Gainesville High School on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 in Gainesville. Boyd will retire on Sept. 30 after more than four decades with the Alachua County Public Schools.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 10:22 p.m.

When Dan Boyd leaves his office at the school district Tuesday evening, it will be the first time since starting his career that he truly disconnects.

At 72 years old, he's already come out of retirement twice to take new jobs. This time, he promised, was his last.

Boyd, who spent the last nine years as Alachua County's superintendent of schools, and an additional 35 years in the district prior to that, is retiring for good after nearly five decades in education.

"We'll see if I can handle it," he said.

As a principal, Boyd was known for connecting with students and having an open-door policy. As superintendent, colleagues say, he has been a fierce fighter for public education, often traveling to Tallahassee to advocate students' interests to lawmakers.

"He has never shied away from speaking out about a lot of the bad legislation that has come out," said Karen McCann, president of the Alachua County Education Association.

On the other hand, he's vocal about legislation that helps students, she said.

In particular, Boyd was instrumental in the passage of a law this year that creates a two-track system for high school students. One focuses on rigorous and advanced coursework, and the other lets students forgo higher-level science and math in favor of earning industry certifications that would let them go to work right away.

Boyd also worked closely with the teachers union to pass a property tax increase — twice — that went toward keeping music and art programs, school nurses and media specialists in school.

Both times, McCann said, he wrote a letter to the teachers union expressing his thanks.

"I admire him for that," she said.

You could say it runs in the family.

Boyd's great-grandfather, his father and two of his aunts were teachers, although he didn't set out to carry on that trend.

After graduating from Jacksonville's Landon High School in 1959, Boyd came to the University of Florida with the intention of becoming a doctor.

He didn't thrive in the pre-med program, he said. As a junior at UF, he switched to studying history in the College of Education.

Boyd was hired at Waldo Community School in 1965, where he taught science and reading to fifth through eighth grade, plus health and physical education.

"We didn't have much," he said.

In his classroom, Boyd had a blackboard and chalk. There was one science textbook for each grade level.

Occasionally, he said, he checked out a 16mm movie or an audio tape from the district's learning resource center in Gainesville.

Other than those materials, and maybe a model of the solar system, "I had to pretty much invent whatever lessons, whatever work the students were exposed to," he said.

During those first two years of teaching, Boyd said, he was desperate to learn, to try anything that worked.

But also during that time, he was carpooling to Waldo with a few more experienced teachers, and soaking up lessons from the veteran educators while getting his master's in education administration from UF.

Spending time with those teachers is when Boyd learned how to develop a curriculum, deal with parents and discipline students, he said. They had a huge impact on his success as an educator.

Years later, Boyd would have the same impact on many of his employees.

In July 1990, he hired Bill McElroy to teach physics and biology at Gainesville High, and let him take over an Advanced Placement physics class just a year later, even though McElroy would only be a second-year teacher.

That summer, when AP test results were released, Boyd called McElroy on the phone to tell the young teacher how proud he was that McElroy's students had done so well on the test.

"For a new teacher, for a young teacher who's still trying to master his craft, that meant everything," McElroy said. "It was just a really, really important moment for me in my career."

A few years later, McElroy helped Boyd with his attempt to get Gainesville High on a block schedule. It didn't work out, but McElroy said he was struck by the grace with which Boyd let it go.

"Being able to work with Dan for those several weeks made me sure that I wanted to be a principal," said McElroy, who became a principal in 1999 and is now principal of the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High. "I wanted to be a principal like Dan."

In all, Boyd spent 25 years as a principal. He spent one year out of the district, as Chiefland High School's principal during the year Florida underwent integration.

The next year, he started as principal at Gainesville High, and spent 24 years there before accepting what he thought was his last post in the district, as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Love for the school made him stay at GHS for nearly a quarter of a century, he said.

"I very much enjoyed working with the teachers at GHS, enjoyed the successes that faculty had with students," Boyd said. "I was committed to doing the best job I could for GHS, and the years just flew by."

Dedra Brown was one of Boyd's students during that time. Now an executive assistant at Loften, she said she remembers he was always approachable and warm to the students at Gainesville High.

He never raised his voice, and tried to know or engage every student who walked his halls, Brown said. The door to his office was always open. He's still the same, she said.

"His smile just embraces you," Brown said. "He just has a genuine spirit about him, a genuine kindness."

Boyd has accomplished much for Alachua County's public schools over the last five decades. The one-mill property tax increase, the dual-track graduation plan, recruiting top-tier high school principals and starting the middle school sports program are all points of pride in just his last nine years as superintendent.

But you can tell that Boyd's greatest achievement, to him, was enjoying such a positive relationship with students, faculty and his colleagues at the district.

As a high school principal, he said, he saw students come as shy, immature ninth-graders and leave four years later as educated, well-rounded adults.

It's an opportunity not everyone gets to have.

"I'm so blessed," he said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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